By Matt Koerber
In the previous post we talked about the first Pentecost. It was a breakthrough day in the life of the church. God used supernatural power to demonstrate the barrier-breaking mission of the church. The gift of tongues allowed the gospel message to be heard in the native language of each listener. It was an early sign that God would empower the church to be witnesses for Jesus – not only in Jerusalem – but to the ends of the earth. We said that this was a good backdrop for our discussions about immigration and the multi-ethnic church.
However, it is clear that the barriers that we face in America today are not primarily barriers of language. Instead, political conflict has created a polarized battlefield surrounding Immigration issues. In this atmosphere, talking points become part of a battle to advance each side’s agenda. Complex issues are oversimplified. Fear and slander are tools for power. Truth becomes a victim in the pursuit of political power. For example: Immigrants are scapegoated for large scale economic woes, refugees live under the cloud of our fear of terrorism, and people who favor immigration reform or border security are labelled racist.
Our goal in this blog is to provide a way forward that avoids the extremes of either the political right or the left. That requires that we deal graciously with people and that we seek to focus on issues of Biblical concern. There are many issues that we can legitimately disagree on – but we need to disagree in grace and listen carefully. But, there are also important principles that the bible does address. We need to carve out a distinctly Christian ethic on these matters.
A Christian approach to any controversial issue includes considering how we argue, not just what arguments we use. In his letter to the Philippians Paul wrote, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Phil 4:5) Sometimes I wonder if that is a command that Christians take seriously enough. If we give in to the polarizing influence of our times we will struggle to be reasonable. Rather than trying to understand and listen to other points of view, we will view encounters with opposing ideas as an opportunity to “score points” or to “advance our cause.” Sometimes we fear that listening to our opponents will cause their position to be viewed as more legitimate.
But Paul’s admonition to be reasonable reminds us that the Christian life is not just concerned with winning a particular battle. It is also concerned with how we conduct ourselves in the midst of a battle. Because Jesus is the king, ruling with power from heaven, we don’t need to adopt a “win at all costs” attitude. Instead, we can engage with opponents in a reasonable way. In fact, the reasonable manner of our dialogue is, itself, a testimony to God’s presence and power. Let’s look again at the connection in Philippians:
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Phil 4:5)
See the connection between God’s presence and our reasonable conduct? It is the presence of God that allows us to back away from the skirmish line and seek to engage in a different way. It is the powerful presence of God that allows us to love our enemies and risk opening ourselves up to challenging dialogue. It is the loving presence of God that allows us to listen to our opponents – even when they are wrong – and love them anyway. We hope that this blog is a small contribution towards reasonable discussion around a difficult topic.
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Matt Koerber is the senior pastor at City Reformed Presbyterian church. This is his personal blog that he also asks guest writers to participate on.